CHELSEA’S managerial crisis deepened yesterday when it emerged that owner Roman Abramovich’s preferred choice to take charge next season, Pep Guardiola, is in talks with Paris Saint Germain.
The Qatari-owned French club are one of the few who possess the financial muscle to compete with billionaire Abramovich, who is desperate to lure the former Barcelona coach, 41, to Stamford Bridge next summer.
Guardiola, currently on a year’s sabbatical after quitting the all-conquering Spanish outfit at the end of last season, spent two years playing in Qatar and strengthened his links with the oil and gas-rich Gulf kingdom while Barca boss.
PSG are thought to be considering sacking former Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti after a disappointing start to the season and have already opened dialogue with Guardiola’s representatives, according to reports in France.
It represents a further blow to Abramovich’s rebuilding plans, which are currently in disarray following the replacement of fans’ favourite and Champions League winner Roberto Di Matteo with Rafael Benitez.
The appointment of ex-Liverpool boss Benitez last month infuriated supporters, and his failure to win any of his three games in charge, culminating in Saturday’s 3-1 defeat at West Ham, has only dented his popularity further.
Chelsea’s season could get even worse tomorrow when they will become the first holders to be eliminated from the Champions League at the group stage, unless they beat Nordsjaelland and Shakhtar Donetsk defeat Juventus.
The crisis has prompted Abramovich to consider bringing former manager Avram Grant back to the club in an advisory role, although the move would be unpopular with Benitez and the club played down suggestions yesterday.
Abramovich’s options are set to be complicated further by the likely departure of Blues idol Jose Mourinho from Real Madrid in the summer, following an apparent breakdown in relations with president Florentino Perez.
Mourinho is expected to rival his old nemesis Guardiola in June for some of the most prestigious managerial vacancies in the world, including PSG and possibly Manchester City and Manchester United.
The Portuguese would be welcomed back to Chelsea by fans but, while his relationship with Abramovich is thought to have improved greatly since his departure in 2007, a return appears unlikely.
Mourinho last night refused to discuss reports in Spanish sports newspaper Marca, which is know for its close ties to Real, that he would leave the club in the summer.
MANAGERS IN DEMAND
Age: 49 n Nationality: Portuguese
Clubs: Benfica; Uniao de Leiria; Porto; Chelsea; Inter Milan; Real Madrid
Titles: Portuguese league (2); Uefa Cup; Champions League (2); Premier League (2); FA Cup; Serie A (2); Coppa Italia; La Liga; Copa del Rey
Next club: Has a track record of instant, if short lived, achievement, making him a good fit for PSG, Man City or Chelsea (relations permitting), whose owners want quick success
Age: 41 n Nationality: Spanish
Clubs: Barcelona B; Barcelona
Titles: Tercera Division; La Liga (3); Copa del Rey (2); Champions League (2)
Next club: Youth development culture at Man Utd may appeal more than a blank cheque book. PSG have opened talks, while Man City’s former Barca executives could sway him